Monday, 30 June 2008

Peace be with you

I drove to Coventry yesterday to see my good friend Clive Hogger get ordained as a deacon in the cathedral there. The ceremony had - maybe appropriately - a little of a wedding about it, combined with something of a christening. There were lots of ladies in hats and there was a general buzz of familial pride.

For me it was all a bit strange. The only services I have been to for as long as I can remember have been weddings and funerals. Had I not felt a bond with Clive, I dare say the ritual could have been fairly empty for me as a non-believer, but the one thing that I did find moving as well as seeing the bishop blessing Clive and him walking away looking a foot taller - was when everyone was encouraged to greet their neighbour.

Hundred of people turning to each other and shaking the hands of friends and strangers and saying, 'Peace be with you,' struck me as a quite a beautiful thing and managed to somehow short circuit my default setting of cynicism. It had a simplicity that was lost among the pomp of the occasion.

So, peace be with you.
And good luck to Clive, the coolest deacon I know.

After the reception back at Alison's parent's house near Rugby, I then drove back to Cambridge in time to have, appropriately enough after standing on the touchline with Clive watching our sons play football for their school, a kick around with my son and watch Spain win Euro 2008 in fantastic style.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

I need answers

A busy Saturday today. I took my son to tennis this morning, then worked whilst he went to the school's summer fete. It is my deadline on Monday and I'm not going to hit it. I have killed one of the stories off - or rather I have put it into suspended animation. It needs time to make it really work, so it will end up in another book, another time. Sometimes writing is more about letting go of something than it is about the work itself. You can't afford to be precious.

I dropped in to the school later just to see how it was all getting on and have a chat to John and Judith among others. In the afternoon I cycled with my son to have a piano lesson at his teacher's house on the Trumpington Road and then back for Doctor Who.

Dr Who is regenerating after being hit by a Dalek after an hilarious slow motion romantic running sequence involving him and Rose. Regenerating! It can't really mean that David Tennant is leaving can it? Why can't Catherine Tate regenerate? And what has happened to Billy Piper's voice since she's been in the parallel world? I can hardly understand what she's saying. She seems to have twice as many teeth. I need answers and I need them now.

Off to Coventry cathedral tomorrow for Clive Hogger's ordination.

Friday, 27 June 2008

The Graveyard Book

Adrian Downie got in touch today from Bloomsbury to thank me for recommending Saki on these pages. He also brought up the subject of the website for Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. More of that another time.

He gave me a link to a site he'd just done for Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book - one version of which is illustrated by my old friend Chris Riddell. Another version is done by that longstanding Gaiman collaborator, Dave McKean.
Both are published by Bloomsbury this coming October

Thursday, 26 June 2008


I got a bound proof copy of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship today from Susannah Nuckey at Bloomsbury. This is adorned with some of the great reviews we managed to garner for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror and has David Robert's illustrations.

This is the first time I have seen David's finished pictures and he has done a fantastic job again - as you will see when you all rush out and buy the book in October!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Missing planks

I continue to nibble away at Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth. My deadline is next week and I am still not entirely happy. This stage of a book always takes longer than I think it will.

Once a book is up and running, you can coast fairly easily. The words come thick and fast and you have the freedom of knowing that if there is a problem you can always come back to it at a later stage.

This is that later stage. All the unresolved passages and glitches are now massively important. They are missing planks in a bridge. They are holes in a picture. They have to be sorted out.

I actually enjoy, in a semi-perverse way, the mechanics of making something work, whether it be a strip, a story, an illustration or a painting. There is the satisfaction of solving a puzzle or climbing a hill wedded to the sheer excitement of adding that final detail or turn of phrase that brings something to life.

Or at least that's the hope.

Monday, 23 June 2008


I went to the studio this morning and saw John briefly. He was working on one of his drawings on his laptop and in the space of about five minutes explained how to use part of Photoshop that is going to really help me I think. I have never been trained in Photoshop and I just about get by. I may be picking John's brains again.

I did quite a bit of work this morning. I have been a little intimidated by my paintings lately - frightened of spoiling the good things about them and not replacing them with anything better - but today I just decided to get some more paint on the canvas. Sometimes you just have to do something. I once saw a great piece of graffiti. It just said 'Do'. That was all. Do. If I was going to have a motto, that would be a good one.

In the afternoon I was working on Tales from the Tunnel's Mouth. I am going through the whole book sharpening the writing. I think I need to get a draft printed off and actually read it through out loud. Tweaking on the computer can become a bit of a black hole. I think it adds to the feeling that everything is still in flux - which I like up to a point. But eventually I need to see it on paper. That's when it starts to feel like it's out in the real world and not still in my head.

Friday, 20 June 2008

John was in the studio again today. At one point, so was Lynette. Had Andrew turned up we'd have been a full house and I can't remember the last time that happened.

I went for another work-displacement coffee with John. This time the conversation turned to violence in cinema and games and whether it has an effect on the viewer and what that effect might be, particularly in relation to children - and to our children in particular. I always have a tendency to adopt a stance in conversations like these, but I often come away wondering whether I was talking utter nonsense.

I tend to talk as though everything is black and white, when that isn't how I perceive the world at all. I certainly don't think I have a special insight. I sometimes think I might have a special insight into my own personal lack of insight.

I am continually wracked by doubt, but I have always thought that a good thing (though not an especially pleasurable one). I think more novels and paintings are produced by doubt rather than certainty.

And I was still thinking this as I cucled home to get back to my book.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Why bother?

I went to the studio today and was surprised to see John there. We haven't been in the studio at the same time for ages. We went for a cup of coffee and had a long talk about painting and what it was all about and what it meant to us, what we liked and what we didn't, what we were trying to do and what we weren't and how we might overcome the terrible 'Why bother?' that has infected all modern practitioners .

It was a good talk, but by the time I had finished having it, I had to get back home and back to my book.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A lack of fireworks

I went to the studio this afternoon and did some serious looking at my paintings. Then I did a bit of tidying up, before giving them another good looking at. Then I took the rubbish out. Then I looked at them some more. Boy, did I look at those paintings.

My studio-mate Lynette popped in briefly and told me she had spent yesterday evening drifting up the Cam in a punt drinking champagne whilst watching fireworks. Then she left.

My paintings just sat there.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

I am a bad blogger

I am losing a bit of discipline with my blog. I keep drafting them and then not getting round to publishing them.

Partly I suppose it is a continuing concern about what the blog is for, apart from giving me a chance to do a bit of product placement for my own work.

I often wonder whether the blog itself should be more creative. I like the idea of Chris Ware's journal/sketchbook/diary and I wonder whether that is not a better way to go. Maybe it ought to be more hand-done. Maybe I could write it all by hand and scan it in and do some drawings and cartoons and so on.

Hmm. Maybe I'll do that as an experiment next week and see how it works.

And then again - maybe not.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Am I bovvered?

After moaning about the quality of Doctor Who episodes this season, there was an excellent one this week, written by Russell T Davies. We didn't watch it on Saturday because of the football, but caught it on BBC iPlayer yesterday.

It was very like a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode and was all about the quality of the acting involved. There were almost no special effects and we never saw the monster. And because it was all about the quality of acting, Catherine Tate was inexplicably left back at the space hotel.

The script was sharp and the acting was great (the only clanging note was when Leslie Sharp - who was brilliant otherwise - practically shouted the word 'she' when talking about her ex, just so we would get the point that she was an inter-galactic lesbian - oooooooh!).

It was quality stuff though, right down to the almost subliminal appearance by Rose in the white noise on a TV screen for a brief moment. Doctor Who is at its best when it takes itself seriously - not when it is trying to be funny or camp.

I am probably not going to get a go at writing Doctor Who now after criticising Catherine Tate's acting ability am I, but look at me - am I bovvered?

Well, maybe a bit.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Uncle Montague's Postcards of Terror

I had a nice surprise in the post this morning. Bloomsbury sent me sets of postcards with illustrations from Uncle Montagu'es Tales of Terror and with one showing the cover of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. I had no idea they were doing these. They are great.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

What am I reading?

A big part of writing is reading - if you see what I mean. I have to say, however, that I read a lot less than I used to. Partly this is due to my no longer travelling anywhere on public transport. When I lived in Norfolk and commuted into London two or three times a week, I got lots of reading done. I don't miss the travelling, but I do miss the excuse to read.

I have lost the habit of carrying a book round with me as I used to do when I was younger. Instead of the paperback I always used to have on me, I have a notebook and when I have a coffee or whatever, I tend to write instead of read. I suppose I also do not have the genuinely 'free' time I had then. I also watch too much TV. And far too much bad TV. Television is a curse for both writer and reader.

That said, I always have a few books on the go. I have been reading a book about Hereward the Wake - Hereward by Victor Head - as research for a book I am writing about the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings. I am reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins as an aid to getting into character for my new book of Victorian(ish)creepy stories and because my son bought it for me as a present. And because it is a really fantastic book. And because I have a bit of a thing about epistolatory novels.

I have also been dipping into Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Datebook 1986-1995. This is a companion volume to the one I have mentioned in an earlier blog - the Acme Novelty Datebook 1995-2002 (though I notice I mistakenly called it the Acme Novelty DIARY in that posting). It has a sticker on it saying 'Not Suitable For Younger Readers'. This must me one of the great understatements of all time!

I am also reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell to my son as a bedtime story. I loved this book when I was young but I was older than my son when I first read it. I had forgotten how grown up some of the passages are. I thought my son would love the nature observations because he is a nature-lover himself, but it is the family scenes he most enjoys and finds so amusing - particularly those featuring the extraordinary Larry Durrell. But we are back to the silliness of age-banding again.

Speaking of which, Philip Pullman wrote a piece in the Guardian last Saturday on this very subject. Follow the link and have a read - then sign up if you feel moved to do so.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

I hate flies 2

It turns out that the shooting and the canoeing/drinking are on different days. Shame. That's not nearly as amusing. In any case I don't seem to be able to make either date.

I tried to do some work on colour with the kids in Art Club today. We did primary and secondary colours and looked at the colourwheel. I got home to discover my flies had been open the whole time. I hate flies.

I had an email from Doodled Books saying that the books I'd doodled in had arrived OK and that they liked them. I actually found it harder than I thought it would be to doodle in the books. I didn't want to start illustrating them. David Roberts has already done that. I was also a bit worried about reducing, rather than increasing, the value with my scrawl.

I found myself looking in a book about Bonnard this afternoon. Oh, but his work made my paintings look a bit weedy and dull. It also made me see the connection with Peter Doig in the way colour is used and the way paint is applied.

Bonnard is one of my favourite painters and someone whose work I would love to own. I cannot imagine ever getting bored of looking at a Bonnard.

A good Bonnard, obviously. I'm not putting any old Bonnard on my wall.

Monday, 9 June 2008


I saw my friend Ross Adams at the school today. I haven't seen him for ages. He asked me if I was going on the canoeing, drinking and shooting trip? I hadn't any idea what he was talking about, but said I might be interested. It turns out that some of our snooker-playing colleagues are planning an adventure.

Canoeing, drinking and shooting? I think I've seen that movie. What was it called again? Deliverance, that was it.

I finally got round to signing the petition against age-banding on children's books. This is such a crazy idea and well done to those, like Philip Pullman, who have led the attack against it. If you want to see a more reasoned argument against it go to the website and have a look. If you are an interested party then sign up.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

I hate flies

More football today - playing and watching. It was actually sunny today. And hot! What's going on? It was almost as if it was summer.

The house is full of flies. England borrows all kinds of ideas and fads from the States, but for some reason we have overlooked the screen door concept. Here we just open the doors and let every flying insect in the vicinity into the house for supper. And I hate flies.

I found myself looking at Brad Holland's website over the weekend - I was recommending him to John Clark. I don't like everything he does, by a long way, and he possibly takes himself a little too seriously, but he knocks the spots off his countless imitators and he really does have something special about him. I can't think of many illustrators in this country capable of that kind of gravitas.

Maybe illustrators here don't take themselves seriously enough.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

David Beckham and Doctor Who

Played football with my son today. It gave us a chance to try out his new football - given a gift after a visit with his school to the David Beckham Soccer Academy earlier in the week.

We watched a bit of the crazy opening ceremony for Euro 2008 - why oh why do the host nations feel they have to present some tacky performance based on visual cliches about their country? It is always rubbish - but rarely rubbish enough enough to be be funny for more than a couple of minutes.

Then we watched Doctorr Who which has been pretty awful this season. That said - this one wasn't bad (though it had far too much Scooby Doo running about and the music is always too loud). It had some good scares - my son actually jumped off the sofa at one point - and there was a bit of depth to the idea (helped by it being spread over two weeks).

And if anyone from the BBC is reading this Blog - I WOULD LOVE TO WRITE FOR DOCTOR WHO!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Don't buy a house

I went to the studio today and did some more work on my paintings. They are at a very frustrating phase - they look good enough that there is something to spoil, but not good enough to leave them alone and call them finished.

My book is all there now - in that it has a beginning, middle and an end - but it has holes and thin patches. It needs some fine tuning.

I went for a drink the other night with John Clark at The Eagle pub here in Cambridge, where RAF pilots used to drink during the WWII and sign their names with lighters on the ceiling - as you do. We talked about work - paid and unpaid. We talked a lot about illustration and freelancing. It was odd to talk about it as it was something I worked so hard at not long ago, and now barely do at all. And it feels weird not to do it sometimes. It feels weird not to draw for a living.

There was a great headline on the New Statesman today - Don't Buy a House! The advice was not to buy a house for the foreseeable future as house prices are set to tumble. And as we are renting and have sold our old house, we ought to be laughing - maniacally, stroking a Persian cat.

But oh how I long to get my stuff out of storage and to have a shower and to have a cutlery drawer where the knob doesn't come off in your hand. Renting is rubbish.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Yo ho ho

And a bottle of Duchy's Original Lemon Refresher

We took my son and three friends to see an adaptation of Treasure Island at the Cambridge Arts Theatre last night. It was adapted and performed by the Birmingham Stage Company and it was great. I read Treasure Island recently to my son and so the story was very fresh in our minds.

I haven't been to the theatre for ages and I was struck by how magical the experience is. It is a wonderful antidote to the pretended realism of TV and cinema. Theatre does not attempt realism. It is a much more complex art form than simply trying to show a version of reality. We can see the actors walking on and off stage and pretending to fall in the sea when there is no sea there and we know that the set that was a ship a minute ago is now doubling as the stockade, but we still get caught up in the story all the same, whilst simultaneously enjoying the wit and invention of how it is being delivered. It all seems very modern, when of course it is nothing of the sort.

And the kids loved it. They enjoyed the story and the action, but they also enjoyed the way it was presented. Their favourite bit was when Blind Pew is run over by a horse. There was no horse of course, and his death was shown by the sky behind him turning blood red to the sound of horse's hooves, a collision, a scream. It was little more than a silhouette and sound effects, but it clearly worked.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Writing is strange

A bit of a disrupted day, one way and another. I haven't been to my studio for over a week now, so I am looking forward to doing that this week. Maybe my paintings are better than I remember them being. It's always possible.

My new book is all there now, but it has a few thin bits and a few holes. Writing is a strange process. A book grows bit by bit - word by word - page by page - chapter by chapter. But if it is going to be anything more than that, there comes a point where it needs to become a whole. This is a mysterious process, a little like painting (or at least it seems so to me).

There comes a point where it just feels right - it feels finished.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Family reunion

My wife and son returned to Cambridge yesterday and I was forced to concede that I had not - strictly speaking - finished my book.

I had written most of it.

Well a lot of it.